A study published by car maker Volkswagen finds that for the same model VW Golf operating on different powertrains, the electric vehicle performs better in terms of CO2 emissions than the ICE diesel model with which it is compared over the full life-cycle.
The report finds, moreover, that the electric vehicles offer a higher CO2-saving potential in all phases of the product cycle than the ICE model.
In summary, the study (using the latest EU electricity mix) says that the current Golf TDI (Diesel) emits 140g CO2/km on average over its entire life cycle, while the e-Golf1 reaches 119g CO2/km.
According to this analysis, most of the emissions occur during the use phase of the ICE vehicle; in the supply chain of the fossil fuel and its combustion. Here the diesel reaches 111g CO2/km while a corresponding vehicle with electric drive emits only 62g CO2/km during the same phase.
By contrast, however, most emissions from the battery-powered vehicle were generated in the production phase. (29g CO2/km for the diesel; 57 g CO2/km for the EV.) The report says that battery production and the complex extraction of raw materials are the reason for this.
According to VW's report, by far the greatest potential for reducing CO2 emissions arises from the source of energy applied during the use phase. If electricity for driving during this phase is obtained exclusively from renewable sources, emissions of 62g CO2/km in today’s EU electricity mix will drop to just 2g CO2/km.
VW says that recycling the vehicle also offers further opportunities to reduce CO2 emissions through the 'circular economy'.
LowCVP commentary: Increasingly there is, rightly, a focus on the whole life cycle impact of vehicles; something the LowCVP has championed in the UK for a over a decade. This is a complex area and developing consistent approaches is important in making sure that future policy is built on robust foundations.
The calculated life cycle impact of a vehicle is highly dependent on the assumptions used in terms of vehicle life and mileage, energy efficiency, material sources and disposal.
There is no doubt that, currently, electric vehicles have a higher production footprint than conventional vehicles, so the overall CO2 emissions 'payback' comes after driving for several thousand miles, the speed of payback depending on the mix of energy sources used to power the grid in question. Electricity in the UK is lower carbon intensity than the EU average - and everywhere grids are decarbonising - so operating an EV here will show a significantly better result than those given in the VW analysis.